On Nov. 24, 2004 in Salt Lake City, I spent the day reporting and writing a story in preparation for the Bulls' 10th straight loss to open the season. I talked to longtime franchise stalwarts like Johnny "Red" Kerr and others for a story that was to run on Page 1 of the entire paper---not Sports---about the sad state of the franchise.
And then the Bulls gutted out a 101-99 road victory over the Utah Jazz. And editors gladly spiked the story. And the Bulls stormed to a 47-victory season and their first playoff berth since the dynasty ended.
We have no such special plans should the Bulls fall to their 10th straight loss Friday against the Cavaliers. But we do have answers as the playoffs keep fading from possibility.
It seems the trades to get cap space for next year seriously hurt the chances of making the playoffs this year. Salmons and Tyrus accounted for over 50 minutes of playing time not replaced by the current bench (Murray, Warrick, Johnson, et al). Especially with Noah out, the bench is now woefully thin. Are free agents as likely to sign with lottery teams as opposed to playoff teams? I think not. Jimmy Linn, Chicago
That's the $16.5 million dollar question. I do think team success--or at least potential for team success--is probably a higher factor in free agents' decision than, say, who the coach is. But it still ranks way behind money, money, money and maybe city fit. The Bulls still can offer playing with a young core of Rose and Noah. That counts for something. But, yes, not making the playoffs will add a risk to this summer. Bulls management figured the team might take a small step back with the trades but made them knowing it had to do something to ensure the ability to offer a maximum contract. What management didn't know--and couldn't predict--is the massive injuries that beset the team. Even with the step back in bench production, you have to believe the Bulls would've competed for a playoff spot had Noah, Deng and Rose stayed healthy. But we'll never know.
Realistically, what are our core players' ceilings? Scot, Chicago
The Bulls have six players under contract for next season. Assuming all six stick, I say the following: Rose: perennial All-Star and top-10 player. Noah: occasional All-Star and longtime starting center. Gibson, Deng and Hinrich: About what you see now. Johnson: Starter, with high bust potential. Is that a title team? Nope. Which is why you have to add a star this summer or at least major pieces.
Are you real or a character played by Jason Sudeikis on Saturday Night Live? Josh, Dayton, Ohio
I've heard McLovin from Superbad and in fact Luke Stuckmeyer from Comcast SportsNet did a "Luke a Like" with an image of McLovin and me on screen together. I don't watch TV and rarely see movies, so I wouldn't know. (Yes, I'm Amish as well as geeky. Actually, I'm a reader and music lover.) But I am, indeed, 100 percent real. Just ask Vinny.
Why not give Acie Law some time and see what he can do over Flip Murray and Pargo? Rocky D., Mount Prospect
Injuries and disciplinary action on James Johnson forced this move and Law delivered two strong offensive showings against the Grizzlies and Mavs. He's still really lax defensively (then again, so is Rose often) but I think he's proving he can be a backup point guard somewhere next year, possibly with the Bulls.
Please explain again what happens to our first-round pick this year? Do the Bucks have the right to swap picks? Is it lottery protected? Where will we end up picking? Jonathan, Geneva, Ill.
If the Bucks finish with a better record than the Bulls, they own the right to swap first-round picks. However, if the Bulls' pick falls in the top 10, that right is relinquished. And the ability to swap is only for this draft. So if the Bulls finish 11th and the Bucks finish 17th, the Bucks would move up six picks.
All the answers to the "Who will the Bulls sign in free agency ?" always begin with "Assuming they don't get LeBron . . ." Let's assume for a minute they are able to bring LeBron to Chicago. What happens to Luol Deng? And how much is left on his contract? Jon, Champaign
Be still my beating heart. I'm guessing the Bulls wouldn't care if Deng became a United Center parking lot attendant if they signed James. More seriously, you worry about that later. If you get James, good for you. It's obviously the ultimate prize. If they got James, they wouldn't care about Deng being an expensive reserve, assuming they can't trade him. And with four more seasons averaging near $13 million, that would be difficult.
Will the top brass of the Bulls look to replace Gar and Pax if they don't make the playoffs? It's very obvious they don't know what's important and that is making the playoffs with the players you started the season with, not making a splash in 2010 free agency. Jamie, Chicago
I received plenty of anti-management emails this week. My stance on this is let's see how the summer plays out. If the Bulls fail to significantly improve their team, management is ripe for legitimately strong criticism. Until then, everybody knew this season was a treading-water season and you can make the argument that, until the injuries, this team was on track to make the playoffs while getting in position to significantly improve their team. Again, if they fail to do so, that's on management. As far as the top brass, that's chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and his history is one of loyalty. He has defended and supported John Paxson publicly every time in the rare times he talks about the Bulls.
The day before the season started, Blake Griffin was well-wished to go "break a leg." And he did. An Amber Alert was issued for Hasheem Thabeet. And Ricky Rubio turned down lovely winters in Minneapolis for Barcelona. Go figure. These were the three leading candidates to win Rookie of the Year. With the season winding down, who do you like for Rookie of the Year? P.S. I ran into Cleetus in the Dagobah system. He is studying with Yoda. Chewbacca, Willowbrook
Thanks for the update, Chewy. I typically get a ballot for Rookie of the Year and if I do again, my vote will go to either Tyreke Evans or Brandon Jennings. Stephen Curry has attracted some late-season buzz. But Evans' numbers are superior. And while Jennings' field-goal percentage is bad, he is playing significant minutes at the most demanding position for a playoff team. That counts for something.
K.C. Johnson's Bulls mailbag
The Tribune's Bulls writer answers reader questions each week during the season
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